J. Alex Lang

1st Operating Session & Subsequent Improvements

In October, the Aspinwall Belt hosted the first “official” Operating Session.  For the uninitiated, this is essentially a bunch of grown men pretending to run a real railroad, when obviously it isn’t.  But that’s the last time you’ll hear me admit this.

I set up some documentation for the group, including an overall train plan, individual work instructions for the various crews, a train dispatchers sheet, and an Employee Timetable (links to a PDF):

Aspinwall Belt Timetable

I also labeled all of the locations, marked the switches to clearly indicate Normal and Reverse, and bought a set of FRS walkie-talkies so that we would sound realistic squawking away on radios.  (Despite all standing within the same fifteen feet. Don’t judge.)  A couple folks had never formally operated a model railroad (we use the word “operate” in constrast to “running trains around in circles”, okay?) and we typically paired the new folks up with more experienced railfans.

We ran about 14 scheduled movements, and a few unscheduled towards the end. Jack T. made great suggestions on the operating plan, which was, loosely:

  • run the intermodal train consist back and forth throughout the session, ducking it out of the way occasionally
  • get an ore train out of Saucon yard before PIBE arrives
  • start out the session with the big road freight (PIBE) on the main line, and spend awhile yarding the train at Saucon Yard
  • after PIBE is done, run a local out & back, and have the D&H run from Bethlehem Steel to Saucon and back
  • meanwhile, drill the ore train, and run a coal train in and out of the mine
  • assemble a BEPI, and have it depart Saucon

Despite a bit of a traffic backlog at the beginning, it seemed that the operating plan worked out fairly well, AND that everyone had a good time. The last bit is most important.

So, on to the improvements.  With some help from friends (thanks Derrick & Mike) expanded the main line loop by another ten feet.  I’m leaving the track plan roughly the same, just lengthening everything to allow for longer trains.  Bethlehem Steel has capacity for 6 cars (oh, so many?) plus an engine track for the D&H power; and the Babodoupolous Metal Reclamation track is now in place (scrap yard), to source scrap gondolas that will go via Saucon to Bethlehem Steel.  The PBNE staging tracks are longer, as is the “headroom” between them and “Bethlehem Steel”.

One definite change will be to have a separate radio channel for the PBNE; and another will be to ensure the arriving PIBE knows to coordinate with the Saucon Drill in order to yard the train more quickly to free things up.

Some photos from the operating session:

In terms of equipment, we’ve added a few things here and there, including a RoadRailer and a few more ore cars.  As I’m still figuring out what I like and don’t like (in terms of track plan), I’m sticking with Kato Unitrack as no nails/glue are needed, and it’s enabled me to change things quickly.  So the track, as you see it in the most recent photos, is still definitely subject to change!  Most importantly, it allows me to run trains with the kids (or myself) while still allowing for easy changes.

Here’s the latest: